By far, Apple’s great success has been its mobile devices: the iPhone, the iPod, and the iPad.
The popularity and tremendous sales of these devices have overshadowed the company’s legacy Mac platform in recent years.
That’s lead a lot of people to wonder if Apple is phasing out the Mac OS in favour of the iOS.
It’s an interesting question, and one that deserves consideration.
Is Apple killing the Mac?
One leading indicator of Apple’s intentions can be found in its departure from the annual MacWorld conference.
It was a huge event that, to Mac fanboys, was bigger than Christmas (which it occurred just after).
Many of CEO Steve Jobs’ keynotes from past MacWorlds are legendary.
It’s at MacWorld, for example, that Jobs introduced the world to the iMac (in 1998), and the iPhone (in 2007), two products that redefined industries.
Yet Apple quit MacWorld – and pretty much every other trade show – in 2009.
Why would Apple decline attendance at the world’s biggest Mac party if the company wasn’t planning to phase out the Mac?
Then there’s the operating system – OS X – that runs on every Mac. OS X is the equivalent of Windows on a PC.
After it was introduced in 1999, major releases of Apple’s landmark operating system came at a breakneck pace, every 12 months.
It was quite remarkable how quickly significant new versions of Mac OS X were released.
Lately though, Apple’s grown lackadaisical with their OS X schedule. Major new releases sort of slip out every two years or so. Major new features are rare.
Clearly Apple has grown disinterested in the Mac, putting less energy into it, and dedicating fewer resources.
Then there are the Macs themselves.
Compared to the revolutionary design of the Bondi Blue iMac in 1999 (remember how everyone immediately trashed its design when it first appeared, then went on to desperately emulate it?) Macs in the last few years have settled into a relatively svelte and unchanging stream of aluminum wedges and cartons.
Come on, Apple, is aluminum the new beige?
Surely the relatively stagnant state of the Mac’s industrial design represents a lack of interest in the platform from Apple?
The truth is, the Mac has matured.
As Microsoft muddles its way from one flawed operating system to another (why did they ever kill the much-loved XP?) Apple has comfortably settled into a state of stability, quality, and dependability with the Mac OS X.
The Mac OS is all grown up: wise and world-wary.
This is also true of Apple’s Mac hardware.
The chic-conservative look of Apple’s unibody aluminum MacBooks and iMacs begets an air of confident sophistication and elegance.
The Mac doesn’t have to work hard to be cool with crazy colours and plastics anymore.
The Mac now defines cool, effortlessly.
In other words, Apple has hit its stride with the Mac (finally!). The Mac is recognized as the preferred, even pre-eminent computer platform currently available.
With the Mac alone, Apple steadily enjoys record sales, quarter after quarter, even as the PC industry overall declines.
As a result, Apple has grown to become the third-largest computer seller in the world, far ahead of now-lame former competitors like Dell.
Which is where the iOS comes in. The iOS is Apple’s new operating system.
It runs on its mobile devices like the iPod, the iPad, and the iPhone.
The iOS is where the revolution is happening. It’s the headline-grabber, the rebel child, the crazy one.
Apple can take incredible risks with the iOS and lead the charge into an uncharted new computing paradigm precisely because it has a solid, mature business and technical foundation in the Mac.
That the Mac OS evolves and changes at a relatively slower pace and catches less attention is intentional. Apple understands that if they attempt a Vista-esque sea change with the Mac, their customers will lose confidence.
Apple no longer needs the Mac to lead the charge. Now the Mac can step into the background like a parent handing over the reigns of the family business to its child, the iOS.
While it’s likely that the Mac will eventually move into retirement, that isn’t happening right now.
Sure, in the long term, as the iOS evolves, fewer of us will buy Macs.
We simply won’t need the power and flexibility Macs offer in comparison to iOS devices. (Though a lot of people will continue to buy Macs out of sheer machismo, as they do trucks rather than cars.)
I already get away with just an iPad for a lot of my business operations. But I still need a Mac to remain truly productive.
Eventually, the Mac will be put out to pasture. But that time isn’t here.
No, Apple isn’t killing the Mac.
It’s just quietly letting it slip into the background of its product lineup as a sort of respected elder in the world of technology.
The Mac has become a stolid bellwether; a stable, comforting entity in that cacophonous, constant storm of change that is the technology industry.
Yes, the Mac is very much alive.
Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, December 10, 2010.